Insert your own reference to Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army here in his old red coat, fixed bayonets and “they do not like it up ’em!” Several companies now make redcoat and khaki figures of Corporal Jones.
Another good example of hobby learning: how technology of cloth, dye and weapon along with politics, geography, climate and (social) history are all to be found in the now deemed slightly odd but still pleasurable hobby of painting toy soldiers!
The two Boer wars were probably the turning point in tactics and uniforms, developing a trend for clothing matching the battlefield and climate that had unifficailly been going on in India and across Empire since the early Nineteenth century.
It was the end of black powder and smoky battlefields, an age of more individual fighting, snipers and improved rifles, not to mention binoculars, balloons and aeroplanes; all these made bright colourful uniforms too conspicuous. The French poilu soldiers in their red and blue, almost Napoleonic French flag uniforms learned this the hard way in the first years of World War One. The age of drab camouflage colours and in the toy world “green army men” had arrived.
Repainting the drab green toy soldiers in bright colours has been my mild reverse protest against the age of drabness ever since:
Peter Laing 15mm miniatures range sheep – my only one!
Hence the protection of a well armed Peter Laing Ancient “shepherd”.
This is Peter Laing figure A921 Sheep Standing (as opposed to the more dynamic A922 Sheep Grazing) from his Medieval range.
Peter along recommends it for Dual Use or Suitable Items From Other Ranges in his catalogue for sheep figures from Ancients, Feudal and Dark Ages, Renaissance and the English Civil War periods.
Sadly this sheep doesn’t quite have what it takes to make it into Peter Laing’s recommended figures for Marlburian, the American War of Independence, Napoleonic, 19th Century, Wild West or 20th Century (WW1 or WW2).
A very long time ago as a child I was bought a jumble job lot of toy soldiers, mostly plastic but amongst them was this trio of metal soldiers.
I painted their hats, coats and boots but never finished them. I had no idea what they were, who made them or what to do with them as they were 40mm tall, bigger or smaller than my other figures. So no real use or match. On their base I could just make out the letters HE which meant nothing to me at the time.
Fast forward to ten years ago: poking around a craft shop on a trip to Cornwall, I discovered a tiny cache of Prince August moulds for making traditional toy soldiers which I bought straight away.
I had seen as a child intriguing adverts for this company in modelling magazines but the dangers of hot metal and shortage of pocket money as a child meant that I never bought any.
Looking through the Prince August online catalogue, I recognised these strange random trio of figures, their designer’s name HE (Holgar Eriksonn) and sent off for some PA moulds to find out at long last how they worked. And to give this three man patrol some company to pick on of their own size.
I found these figures are Prince August PA17 Musketeer, PA23 Musketeer standing and PA24 kneeling.
Playing around with paint finishes
There are many possible finishes for these shiny Prince August castings.
One suggestion is pewtering, an idea from their cast your own chess sets ‘antique finish’. Black acrylic paint is painted over the figures, then fairly quickly wiped off with a cloth or kitchen roll before fully dry.
Another alternative is the simple gilt or gold paint finish.
I tried out the gilt finish on another home casting, an American sailor drumming, from a metal mould of a different much older (American?) manufacturer.
The older type of metal home cast moulds (usually German or American origin) have much more flash and casting lines, requiring more time and filing to clean up than a modern rubber Prince August mould.
Sometimes I find stray home cast figures in junk shops and online lots that are quite crude, often overpriced such as this cowboy type figure from another metal mould (in this cast in quite soft and bendy lead).
They have a simple charm and many conversion or paint possibilities.
I have now tracked down a three figure (Schneider?) mould No. 56 of this cowboy and two Indian figures to produce more. At some point worth casting enough for a Close Little Wars home cast skirmish of settlers versus natives maybe?
This “fake pewter” or “antiquing” technique can also be tried with some success on silver plastic figures from pound stores.
Picked up in a second hand bookshop years ago is an illustrated copy of this E. Nesbit Short story The Town In the Library, first published in 1901.
How to Feed Toy Soldiers …
This out of print 1987 Macdonald / Beehive Books edition of the Edith Nesbit story has interesting illustrations of toy soldiers by illustrator Shirley Tourretwho died in 2007.
Some of the aspects of the story are an interesting and magical realist mixture of kaleidoscopic Chinese puzzle ‘box inside a box’ / ‘world inside a fantasy world’ of Lewis Carroll and H.G. Wells Floor Games and Little Wars. It is the familiar floor world of Wells’ Little Wars world of the Edwardian Nursery.
Two children Rosalind and Fabian are quarantined at home with measles on Christmas Eve. They are forbidden to open the top drawers of a bureau / desk but of course do and discover their Christmas treats and toys including blue and red toy soldiers.
The short story from Nesbit’s 1901 book Nine Unlikely Tales is played out amongst buildings and forts made of books, in a H.G. Wells style but ideas of scale are played around with throughout the story and the children appear to shrink into this world or town inside their house’s library.
The blue toy soldiers appear out of their wood and straw box in a novel and exciting way – abseiling down the wood shavings to the floor below, a decorative feat in full Napoleonic gear.
Thus is nicely pictured by Shirley Tourret with the soldier climbing down the side of the text to the book’s floor.
Captured by the blue toy soldiers, the children are persuaded to feed them their Christmas treats in a novel and unusual way. “I suppose you know how tin soldiers are fed?” Edith Nesbit / the narrator asks:
The children are rescued by the traditional red coated heroes (Nesbit’s story was written in 1901 at the height of Empire after all) which Shirley Tourret depicts in almost 18th Century uniform and head gear. They are nicely portrayed amongst a battlement of books.
All very H.G. Wells and Little Wars …
The story cleverly ends with the two children reappearing in their real nursery / library proper sized again but suffering from the fever of oncoming measles. So was it all a feverish dream or was it?
The book is an interesting mix of period uniforms, and absurd ideas for gaming scenarios such as the blue Napoleonic troops abseiling in full dress and shako.
The figures are stiffly posed in a toyness fashion when glimpsed as toys in some pictures but within the world of the bookish “Town in The Library” of the title and the children’s feverish imaginations the Toy Soldiers appear more animated, alive and human. This is cleverly distinguished in Shirley Tourret’s illustrations.
A sad postscript
The things you learn whilst exploring the world of toy soldiers.
As well as finding out about illustrators, you discover interesting things about the authors too.
Exploring Edith Nesbit’s life on Wikipedia, I found that Fabian and Rosamund the two children in the book are named after her own complicated family of birth and adopted children including a son Fabian, who died aged 15 in 1900, the year before this story was published in 1901. She also was one of the nine founders of the socialist Fabian Society in 1884 with her husband Hubert Bland, and her son Fabian was named after the society.
Nesbit’s children were Paul Bland (1880–1940), to whom The Railway Children was dedicated; Iris Bland (1881-1950s); Fabian Bland (1885–1900); Rosamund Bland (1886–1950), to whom The Book of Dragons was dedicated; and John Bland (1898–1971) to whom The House of Arden was dedicated.
Her son Fabian died aged 15 after a tonsil operation; Nesbit dedicated a number of books to him: Five Children and It and its sequels, as well as The Story of the Treasure Seekers and its sequels. Nesbit’s adopted daughter Rosamund collaborated with her on the book Cat Tales. (Wikipedia source: E.Nesbit)
Retail Design Worldwebsite / newsletter is an unusual read for a gamer (it informs part of my day job) but it has pages of VM (Visual Merchandising) inspirations inspired by exhibitions, shop windows and other unusual objects.
In the same way, I’m sure each gamer has their own scrap box, postcard, Pinterest board, DVD and bookshelf inspirations for their current games.
Here are some inspirations and scenarios I’ve come across whilst developing Donald Featherstone’s simplest two page rules Close Wars (Appendix 2) of his 1962 War Games, my favourite gaming book.
A keen Colonial gamer, Featherstone was focussed here on “the type of fighting that happens between small numbers of men in forests, such as in the French and Indian Wars of the late eighteenth century in America” (page 149).
My version has morphed over years into what I call “Close Little Wars“, “Bish Bash Bush” or “Bish Bash Am-Bush“, mash-up simple rules inspired by hex games, H.G. Wells, garden wargames, skirmish games and a passion for cheap plastic or glossy toy soldiers.
Scenarios of natives versus troops:
A recent Christmas book token was swiftly transformed into five Osprey books, all with Close Little Wars applications. In no particular order:
Teutoberg Forest AD 9: The Destruction of Varus and His Legions by Michael McNally Osprey Camapign 228
Close Little Wars scenarios for Airfix Romans meeting Airfix Ancient Britons. Or maybe my Cakes of Death inspired ‘Ancient Warrior’ figure?
2. Fort William Henry 1755-57: A Battle, Two Sieges and Bloody Massacre by Ian Castle, Osprey Campaign 260
3. Tomahawk and Musket: French and Indian Raids in the Ohio Valley 1758 by Rene Chartrand, Osprey Raid series no. 27
Slightly later in the eighteenth century, the Revolutionary Wars in North America provide another Close Little Wars type scenario:
4. The Swamp Fox: Francis Marion’s Campaign in the Carolinas 1780 by David R. Higgins, Osprey Raid Series no. 42.
On another continent or island, New Zealand:
5. The New Zealand Wars 1820-72 by Ian Knight, Osprey Men at Arms series No. 487
The New Zealand Wars of Pa forts and Pakeha European troops versus successful Maori natives was a period I first read about in a series of articles in Miniature Wargames (issues 27 to 29 August to October 1985) brought home for the history articles by my Dad. Andy Callan also published a short set of Maori Wars rules in Military Modelling in 1983; I never got the hang of them from the tattered magazine I bought from our school library but they had great pictures of Peter Laing figures attacking a twig stockade on shaggy deep pile carpet terrain!
Each of these Osprey books temptingly has a back page full of Related Titles on www.ospreypublishing.com Tempting but expensive. There’s always second hand, EBay or the library ….
Figures for Close Little Wars
1. 40mm HE figures Holgar Eriksonn figures from Prince August sourced home casting moulds – Cowboys and Indians, Seven Years War / 18th Century figures.
2. 30mm Spencer Smith Miniatures of American Civil War / Wild West / Eighteenth Century / American War Of Independence – first bought in plastic, still available in metal and many designed by Holger Eriksonn!
I will post a separate blog post on using these charming simple Spencer Smith 30mm figures for Little Close Wars.
3. Vintage Airfix
Ancient Britons and Romans, Washington’s Army, British Grenadiers, Cowboys, Wagon Train, Indians, Union Infantry, Confederate Infantry, American Civil War Artillery, Napoleonic troops, Airfix Gurkhas or Australian Infantry, Japanese Infantry.
Many other plastic 1:72 figures are now available for almost any period – I still have some Esci Colonial Infantry, Zulus and ‘Muslim Warriors’ from the 1980s and the Atlantic ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and fabulous Wild West series with everything from teepee camps, gold mining camps, Buffaloes. All useful for scenarios of Close Little Wars.
But vintage Airfix, big and little, crumbling as some now vintage ones now, unless if you have the recently reissued Hat or Airfix, remain for me the standard figures for conversion or play.
Pound Store Warrior Knight
Pound Store Warrior Knight
4. Pound Store plastic Cowboys, Indians, civilians, ‘ancient Warriors’ Romans and Knights. Usually in 54 mm scale.
Little Close Wars Terrain – not seeing the Wood for the Trees:
Donald Featherstone raided his Southampton garden for his early gaming materials:
“Trees can be purchased in plastic that look very real and are quite cheap. They can also be made from loofah sponge or from plastic dyed green and stuck onto pieces of twig, or there is style of lichen moss available that makes wonderful trees. When Wargames started in the writer’s house, trees were made plentifully from pine-cones dyed green and fixed to the table with a daub of plasticine. ” Donald Featherstone, War Games, 1962, page 41.
Featherstone’s Close Wars appendix terrain list is pure garden, park and woodland finds, a proper Nature Table.
If not blessed with a suitable garden source, there is an Australian company Bold Frontiers who make a range of trees to complement its Armies in Plastic forest rangers and other figures http://www.boldfrontiers.com.au
We started with books to inspire interesting figure game scenarios, so let’s end this post with another interesting link on the Bold Frontiers website. As scenarios go, they have an interesting reading list for boys (and girls?) of all ages:
I admire their slogans and ethos for a new generation of younger gamers, effectively saying to parents buy these for your kids as “the Great Alternative to Digital Games“. Bold Frontiers claim that “Boys can STRETCH their Imaginations and live the Adventure” (Boys? What about girls, including H.G. Wells’ “more Intelligent sort of Girl who likes Boys’ Games and Books“.
They subtitle their Bold Frontiers site with a slogan close to my garden / gaming heart: “Bring the great outdoors, indoors!”
So get offscreen, grab a bag of poundstore figures, raid the garden and get gaming!
More Cakes of Death silicon cake mould and sugar craft inspired gaming ideas.
This figure was made as a birthday gift for a family member who collects bears, having previously liked some traditional style Toy soldier Prince August figures made for another birthday.
Figures from these commercially produced silicon sugar craft or cake decoration moulds (available from several internet suppliers) are about 65 to 70 cm high / 2 – 3 inches high.
These Fimo bear figures are painted in Revell Gloss Acrylics for that toy soldier look.
All I need now are several dozen of these in contrasting colours and a bear battle may commence for command of the toy box / honey supply, whatever …
Perfect for parades or unusual gaming scenarios.
Glow in the dark gaming …
One of the first polymer clay / Fimo bear figures I made was using white Fimo – or what I thought was white Fimo from a multicolour gift set. What it turned out to be at nighttime was glow in the dark Fimo.
Maybe a challenge – glow in the dark figures gaming – or maybe not.
The sound of the ghostly pipes and a glowing figure at night. Should scare the enemy!
They prove interesting and charming toy soldier figures for my favourite rules / Close Little Wars scenarios based on Donald Featherstone’s Close Wars two page appendix to his 1962 book War Games.
You may recognise them from the example American Civil War battle photographed for his books.
As well as these white metal figures (as yet unpainted) I also have some 30 year old original hard plastic 30mm American Civil War Union troops. For some reason I never bought any opposition, no doubt distracted by another project.
These packs of Spencer Smith plastic figures seemed a very good deal at the time. The figures are still available individually in metal.
I was especially pleased to recognise these figures in the first Donald Featherstone book War Games (1962) in the Horse and Musket rules for the American Civil War.
Using Featherstone’s appendix 2 in this book to form the Close Little Wars rules I use on the table or in the garden (without a hex scape grid ), there is little role for many if any massed Cavalry in the cluttered terrain.
However here are some fine US or Union Cavalry, again showing their age since schoolboy painting 30 years ago.
I really like the size, animation and simplicity of these figures. Few of the other SSM figures have survived in my collection, apart from unpainted metal samples, yet the 18th century figures would work equally well against his small range of natives for French and Indian Wars of the 1750s or American War of Independence in the 1770s.
There is an excellent gallery on his website showing many of these 18th Century figures, including some contributed by Miniature Wargames editor Henry Hyde: